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Smiles mandatory

Smiles mandatory
Orlando Sanchez does more than transport kids to school

There’s a rule on John “Orlando” Sanchez’s bus—you’ve got to smile when you get on.

Sanchez starts his days early in the morning at Sweetwater Union High School District. He arrives at 5:30 a.m., fuels up the bus, checks the oil, tires and engine, and sets off to make an impact on kids’ lives. Safety is paramount on Sanchez’s bus, and all of his students know he’s very serious about it. He’s also serious about giving respect and making one another feel comfortable.

“I always let them know that I am the boss of the bus. I am in charge. When they know somebody’s in charge, the students understand that they have to listen to what you have to say,” Sanchez said. “Be a friend, but yet be firm, and they understand that. Once they gain your trust, once you gain their trust, they feel safe.”

Sanchez always selects the bus routes that include special needs students. He said it’s because he feels he possesses the characteristics and ability to work with them.

“The beginning of their day should be positive, and you have to have a certain amount of patience
and understanding to work with children,” he said.

Jena Lehr, school counselor at Springall Academy, is in constant communication with Sanchez about students’ behavior on the bus. She said she can always count on Sanchez to make sure the students are safe.

“I can always count on Orlando to help me with anything that needs to happen here at school. If there is a problem or an issue, he just gets it done,” Lehr said.

Lehr said one of the most impressive aspects of Sanchez is the respect he shows for everybody. She said even when it comes to difficult students—which Sanchez willingly looks to work with—he always treats every situation with an impressive amount of respect.

From giving the Heimlich Maneuver to stopping a student from biting another, Sanchez’s day is never dull or boring. But the U.S. Navy veteran still finds exciting things to do outside of work as well. He gives free karate lessons, and also donates his work as a hairdresser to support cancer research. It’s easy to see the correlation with his work in CSEA.

“CSEA is a big group of volunteers, and we’re as strong as we are because we have a lot of volunteers,” Sanchez said. “We have a lot of people who give and a lot of people who understand what giving is all about.”